Editorial: Truce gives governor a window for tax reform

They’re calling it a truce, a stand-down, a cease-fire. Whatever the label, the withdrawal of multiple divisive initiatives from the November ballot is a positive step, and the governor deserves credit for brokering the deal.

Gov. John Kitzhaber announced Monday that rival groups agreed to drop measures that would have led to bitter battles on taxes and union issues. The reprieve will allow the governor to pursue his goal of a tax reform package by 2016 that can win support from labor and business.

Union groups had been working on 10 initiatives to raise taxes on the rich and corporations, expecting to choose one or two of them for the ballot. On the business side, a proposed initiative would have let public employees escape paying union dues and another would have blocked payroll deduction of union dues used for political activities. An additional union measure was dropped that would have required dues from all workers represented by a union, according to The Oregonian.

Last week, a separate Kitzhaber-brokered agreement was announced that stopped five possible ballot measures relating to hospital prices and executive pay. Union and hospital representatives agreed to meet regularly to work on the issues, rather than resort to the ballot this year.

“This is an unprecedented moment in Oregon’s long history of ballot measure politics,” the governor said in a statement. “Instead of spending millions on ballot measure battles, we have an agreement that provides an opportunity for people to work with one another on solving Oregon’s biggest problems.”

That opportunity, however, is temporary. The ideological differences have not disappeared, and all will be watching to see if the governor can deliver on his tax-reform ambitions. If he does, public support for divisive measures may be diminished when they inevitably resurface.

Oregon needs tax reform. To get there, it needs to avoid intense battles over ballot initiatives, which are not the best method for such complex issues. The governor has earned his reprieve. Now the question is: What will he be able to do with it?